As with most things, it is important that your filing system should be fit for purpose. This is where consideration of the types of workspace discussed earlier in this section can be useful.
A filing system which reflects the particular way in which you work may be appropriate for your individual workspace – after all if it is being used appropriately it is only you that should ever need to use it, so what suits you is all that is really important. It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to set up a section of the group or corporate workspace along these lines for all the same reasons discussed with regards to the use of appropriate file names.
Certainly when it comes to your group or corporate workspace consultation and collaboration should be the name of the game. You may find it useful to organise a participatory style workshop to help gather views and reach consensus on how your information should be structured.
If you are responsible for setting up a filing system for your department or area it makes sense to first see what work has been done or is currently underway at the corporate level. Not only could this save you a great deal of work by not reinventing the wheel, it will also mean that whatever you implement at the group level is consistent with the rest of the institution.
This will make everyone’s life easier when it comes to implementing institution-wide information management projects.
Many institutions are currently in the process of defining and implementing an institution-wide classification scheme and/or file plan as part of their records management strategy. A quick conversation with your records manager (if you have one) should ensure that you are joined up with this work and able to collaborate for your mutual benefit.
The drawbacks of basing a filing system around your administrative structure
It may seem sensible to base your group filing system on the structure of the group in question (department, faculty etc). After all it would require little research on your part and would be immediately understood by everyone within the group.
There are, however, some serious drawbacks to basing your filing structure around your current administrative structure. Chief amongst these is the fluidity of such structures and the regular re-organisations of departments and faculties that are an inevitable feature of university life.
Such changes rapidly lead to problems with your filing system. Not only must everything be changed to match the new structure, but it can be difficult to know what to do with the existing information.
Should it be reorganised to reflect the new structure (which is both confusing and inaccurate with reports from 2002 seemingly having been created by a department that didn’t exist until 2007)? Or do you leave it where it is but start a new section, reflecting the changes, in which to store all future information.
In which case it may not be obvious to the user that the information contained under the accounts department from 2006 is actually a continuation of the information that up to that date was contained under the finance department)?
The advantages of a function-based approach
Most corporate records management initiatives are using a different approach based on functions and following suit will help ensure that what you implement at a group level is consistent with the rest of the institution.
The functional approach bases its structure around the underlying functions and activities which the institution carries out, rather than trying to reflect the organisational structure it chooses to carry them out at any particular time. Although the same department may be known as human resources, personnel and staff development and staff welfare in as many years, the roles it carries out will largely remain constant: recruitment, appraisal, training, disciplinary procedures etc.
By basing your structure on these underlying functions and the activities which are carried out to achieve them, you should have a far more stable filing system. It should also be easier to navigate by those who do not have a detailed knowledge of the area in question as it does not rely on obscure department-specific names or acronyms.
Jisc Business Classification Scheme
An added advantage of adopting a functional approach to your filing system is that we have done a large amount of the work for you already.
Our Business Classification Scheme provides a generic ‘map’ of the functions and activities undertaken by higher education Institutions. It can be adapted to suit local needs and is used by many institutions as the basis of their file plan.
The guidance material provided with this resource gives more details on how to use it, as well as the differences between a classification scheme and a file plan.
An FE version of this scheme is also available.
See also our Planning a participatory workshop guide